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Thursday, October 17, 2013
The Latest Debt and Budget Battle Is Over, and the War Goes On

It was just a battle. It wasn't the war. And here are some thoughts in the aftermath. There's a fun little surprise at the end of the post.

Something Marches On -- Time, I Think

Last week I blogged in favor of basing opinions on facts, specifically in reference to the current debate over ObamaCare, funding the federal government, and raising the debt ceiling. I said that the facts permit a broad range of opinions, while excluding some other, very common views.

I threw in a little opinion of my own at the end, but I was preparing another post to expand on my own views, hopes, and expectations, as the deadline drew near. People kept asking. But I never had time to finish it. Given the facts I listed before, which are contrary to much of what has issued from the White House lately, and given my recent explanation here at the blog that President Obama and his minions are tyrants doing tyrannical things in tyrannical ways, you had probably already guessed that I wasn't siding with the Democrats. But even that limitation leaves a fairly broad range of possibilities.

Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill to fund the government and "raise" the debt ceiling. Last night, the House passed it. An hour or two later, President Obama signed it. So it's over again, at least for a couple of months.

Still, I want to backtrack for a moment, before we forge ahead, to add to our list one additional fact and one possible fact, not necessarily in that order.

Possible fact: I heard yesterday morning on the news that the real problem with debt service would have arrived near the end of October, not today, when a large payment was due. On the other hand, that story ignored the fact that there would have been enough revenue to pay debt service anyway, and then some, assuming the Obama administration didn't divert the funds to other, lower priorities or simply refuse to pay.

Fact: Despite the President, Congressional Democrats, the Democratic media, and some Republicans telling us ad nauseam that we were facing the first default on debt in our nation's history, it would not have been the first. By yesterday even the Associated Press and USA Today had realized that there have been at least two actual defaults and some "technical defaults" in our past, the latter including a time in the 1930s when the US Government despicably paid its obligations with deliberately devalued dollars. I'll leave you to explore the details by following the links. Meanwhile, President Obama himself repeated this falsehood just this morning, in his almost-daily speech to the nation.

What I Expected

In coming to this topic after the fact, I'm conscious of something Winston Churchill said in 1950: "After things are over it is easy to choose the fine mental and moral positions which one should adopt." However, I do have notes and fragments from that unfinished blog post to help me avoid the bias of hindsight for a few moments here.

I confess more than a little curiosity as to how things might have transpired, had the House Republicans held their ground through today and beyond, but I didn't really think I'd see it. It might not have been good. It might not have been bad.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but a Republican on Capitol Hill tends to be a cartilaginous creature, if not actually invertebrate. So the most likely scenario was that the mass of Republicans would eventually fold, give the Democrats virtually everything they wanted, if not more, and then pound their vacant chests and praise their heroic willingness to compromise.

For the record, I can still read the dictionary. It's not a compromise unless both sides have conceded something meaningful. If only the Republicans make concessions, it's not a compromise. It's surrender. Both have their places, but let's not mistake one for the other.

I'm still looking for something the Democrats might have conceded in this case.

What I Hoped

I hoped for at least one meaningful concession by the Democrats. Eliminating ObamaCare waivers for their friends and subsidies for Congress and its staff was probably too much to hope for, but it would have been nice. Legally postponing ObamaCare's implementation, after President Obama had illegally postponed some of it for a year, was probably not a realistic hope, and I'm not sure it would have been in the worst interests of ObamaCare, anyway.

The concession didn't have to involve ObamaCare. I would have loved to see it address other entitlements in a responsible manner, such as raising and indexing the retirement age and changing the way entitlements are adjusted for inflation. The most realistic hope, in terms of policy, seemed to be a few Washington spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling, and maybe introducing some flexibility into the much-maligned sequestration. (Note: "Washington spending cuts" are decreases in planned or desired increases, not decreases in actual spending.)

Let's face it. The left has the White House. The left has the Senate. The left has most of the media. The Republicans -- not so much the conservatives -- have the House, but not in an overwhelming majority. In these circumstances, for the most part, the best Republicans can do from the House is get in the way of some of the bad stuff, and that only within limits.

I'm not saying what some people said to me, that it was irresponsible of the House to pass anything they knew the Senate would not fully embrace. Congress is bicameral for a reason, and wholly to subordinate one house to the other would be folly.

Defunding ObamaCare was definitely too much to hope for, but I'm not saying Messrs. Cruz, Lee, and Paul should not have done what they did. It was nice to see someone put up a fight. It was heartening. Yes, they were blamed for the government shutdown, but no one has been able to explain yet how three senators from the minority party, against the will of many of their own partisans, could shut down the government. Even their filibuster came rather quickly to an end.

Meanwhile, Christopher Bedford's declaration that these three are now the real leadership among Senate Republicans might be a tad overstated, but from here, outside the Beltway, it appears that Bedford might be on to something. In any case, what these three senators accomplished was significant: They focused and extended the debate, and in so doing provided a needed opportunity for a few voters, at least, finally to discover what has been obvious to some of us for a long time. And they served notice -- including to their own party -- that some things ought not to be expected to happen without a fight. We'll see in 2014 and 2016, maybe, whether the long-term effects of their efforts were good or bad, but right now any commentary on that is speculation.

What We Learned (Again)

So what have we learned that we already knew, and that we might hope has sunk into a few more voters than before? Here are some possibilities.

President Obama doesn't know the meaning of the words negotiate and compromise. He thinks they mean that the other side concedes everything. He thinks they are things he can promise to do after he's been given everything he wants, and people will still think he's really smart.

The word bipartisan in Washington means that the Democrats get everything they want, and the Republicans go along. (And up is down, black is white, freedom is slavery, and vice versa. It's all very Orwellian.) Anyone who dissents is an extremist, if not a bomb-throwing, hostage-taking terrorist.

We learned that Senator John McCain isn't much of a Republican, and that Senator Mitch McConnell is content to appear as if he's playing for the other side. (A $2.9 billion dollar earmark for Kentucky, attached to the compromise bill? Even if it's not actually a bribe, it looks terrible.) Neither of these is news.

It is said that you can take a person's moral measure by what he does when no one else is looking. If that is true, it must be even truer that you can take a person's moral measure by what she is willing to do when she's confident that the blame will fall on her adversaries. We learned that the present batch of Democrats and the bureaucrats they control will do things like this, if they think the Republicans will catch at least 51 percent of the blame:

  • spend more money to keep Americans from visiting monuments than would have been spent fully staffing them;
  • shut down private ventures which operate on leased federal land;
  • prevent people from stopping to take pictures of Mount Rushmore (closed) from the highway (open);
  • refuse to pay death benefits to the families of fallen soldiers, until the embarrassment becomes overwhelming;
  • threaten military chaplains with criminal charges if they do anything that might be construed as ministering to their flocks, even on a volunteer basis;
  • prevent volunteers from mowing the grass around open-air monuments;
  • threaten criminal charges if any furloughed federal worker tries to do any work from home;
  • close down the open-air Flight 93 memorial in western Pennsylvania; and
  • denounce one of the most liberal Republicans, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), as a right-wing extremist for proposing a compromise which gave the Democrats every major thing they wanted, in return for delaying the medical devices tax (already an object of bipartisan derision) for two years, and enforcing a portion of ObamaCare which Obama has illegally waived, income verification for people seeking insurance subsidies.  

Of the many things which have been said about these absurdities, I'll settle for quoting Mark Steyn about the Flight 93 memorial:

What kind of fellow -- even a federal bureaucrat -- is such a dead husk of a human being that he complies with the order to close the mass grave of better men than he will ever be?

For that matter, what kind of an empty shell of an American gives the order in the first place?

We learned that the message from these thugs to Americans is clear: You need us. Give us everything we want, or we will close your sacred places, take away your heroes, and separate you from your god. (Note to self: Maybe they're jealous of other heroes and other gods?) Do not dare to try to help your country on any terms but ours. And, by the way, we're the only people you can trust with your health care!

Parting Thoughts

As a delegate, a voter, a blogger, and a campaign volunteer, I helped get Senator Mike Lee elected. I thought him capable of getting into these fights and eventually winning some of them, and I still do. Frankly, I'm rather pleased with myself. I give him an "A" for the month.

I helped Senator Orrin Hatch get reelected in much the same ways, and I'm pleased with the results in this case, too. The verbal savagery directed at me for supporting him publicly, during and after the last election, came from many of the same people who welcomed my support for Mike Lee two years earlier. It wasn't measurably more civilized or honorable than the invective coming from our White House lately. But it was a lot less venom than they direct at the Senator himself. I think I can bear it.

Senators Hatch and Lee disagree with each other on the best way to oppose ObamaCare. I don't know which is right, if either of them is, but I'm happy to have them fighting ObamaCare on multiple fronts. They both went to law school, where grading is often on a curve, so this month Senator Hatch gets the "A-."

From what I heard on the radio and saw in my e-mail this morning, FreedomWorks is still doing its best to cash in on the fund-raising potential of recent events, but they won't be getting any money from me. Their casual commitment to the truth is approximately equal to the President's, and I think they do the conservative cause more harm than good by joining it. I hope people will find some worthier place to send their money.

I won't be stunned if we eventually discover some language in the new law which inverts the debt ceiling process, by making increases automatic, unless they are overturned by veto-proof majorities of both houses. Senator McConnell recently proposed this.

I hear a lot of angry chatter to the effect that we should give all our elected representatives their walking papers and start over -- not that there's a constitutional mechanism for that. I find this view to be irresponsibly lazy. Some of our representatives are good, and a few of them are great. We would do better to keep those. Separating the wheat from the chaff is a lot of work, which many voters are unwilling to do. Besides that, "throwing the bums out" doesn't help, if we simply replace them with the next batch of bums. What if Cal Thomas is right when he says the bums aren't the problem -- we are?

Finally -- and here's the little surprise I promised -- I'm reading that Congress didn't actually raise the debt ceiling yesterday. It suspended the debt ceiling -- meaning it won't be enforced for a while. On February 7, 2014, that's supposed to end, and the ceiling will have to be raised -- unless they kick the can down the road again, which seems likely. There appears to be no legal limit to the money they can spend between now and then. Tricky, ain't it?

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